Knocked Up

Reviewed By Rob Gonsalves
Posted 06/04/07 10:33:35

"Sorry. Didn't do much for me."
3 stars (Average)

Seth Rogen sounds like someone trying to do an Albert Brooks impression and not quite pulling it off. He has fleshy, indistinct features swathed in stubble and topped by a bush of brown curls; I have trouble recalling him visually even after watching him for two hours. After a few supporting roles and some work in short-lived TV shows, he’s been shoved into leading-man status, which is, I suppose, part of the joke.

In Knocked Up, the new film by writer/director Judd Apatow, Rogen plays the same sort of guy he did in Apatow’s previous The 40-Year-Old Virgin — a crass, raunchy-minded slacker, never happier than when he’s dissecting the finer and baser points of pop culture with his buds. The problem is, the movie lets us laugh at Rogen and then says that — as with Steve Carell in Virgin — he has to Grow Up.

Rogen’s Ben Stone has a one-night stand with Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl), an assistant on the E! program who couldn’t be giddier to learn that she’s been chosen as a “reporter.” Heigl plays her warmly and with clear access to her emotions, but Alison is a rather boring young woman, and it’s hard to know what Ben sees in her — she’s the type he and his friends would sit around making lewd, accurate remarks about when she’s on TV asking Matthew Fox inane questions. Anyway, about eight weeks later Alison finds out she’s pregnant, and Ben’s the father. The two, shell-shocked by the news, haplessly go about creating a relationship in reverse — they’re having a baby, and they don’t even know if they like each other.

Some of Knocked Up, particularly the scenes with Ben and his hilariously crude roomies, delivers the comedic goods. Their scenes are so naggingly funny — Apatow has a real gift for writing snarky dialogue between young men — that it’s a real bummer when we realize that Apatow wants us to see Ben’s raffish buddies as what he must leave behind (like a sitcom version of Henry IV). There is another couple in the film — Alison’s sister Debbie (Leslie Mann), a type-A personality who worries too much, and her dispirited husband Pete (Paul Rudd), who’s sick of her nagging and just wants to be alone somewhere quiet. The problems between them are never resolved in the movie; we just assume that Pete learns to shut up and endure the rest of his grim life with this life-draining bitch. Maybe it’s unresolved because Apatow and especially Rudd touch on deep, painful emotions that a summer comedy can’t really deal with other than to cast Pete and Debbie’s situation as a cautionary tale for the lead couple to avoid.

But how? Alison and Ben have nothing in common. He does all the changing for her — she doesn’t change for him, and in fact treats him like crap some of the time (excused because of her hormones, of course). I was never sold on most of what goes on in Knocked Up, especially the bit where Ben decides to man up, get a professional job in web design (he and his buddies had been working on a Mr. Skin-type website, unbelievably not having heard of Mr. Skin), and rent a spacious apartment in East L.A. — never mind that he’s Canadian and in the country illegally. Well, at least he doesn’t have to sell his prized action-figure collection, like Carell in Virgin.

Apatow scored a hit with Virgin by marrying a raunchy premise — a bunch of guys trying to get an aging nerd laid — to a genuinely sweet and insightful set of characterizations, where the actors were obviously encouraged to ad-lib. Knocked Up is a more muddled affair (and, at two hours and nine minutes, too long), without as much room for improvisational flights or for the kind of outrageous gags people will spend the summer talking about. It’s been aggressively sold as the season’s big-dog comedy, and the critics have obligingly fallen right in line with the marketing, but the movie I saw is sketchy and kind of sour. (Whenever anyone in popular entertainment is touted as the new genius of anything, keep your hand over your wallet.)

'Knocked Up' has its moments, but not enough of them, and it ends up not saying much of anything about the subject it tries to be serious about: giving up one’s autonomy for the sake of a baby. It will probably comfort and validate the young parents in the audience, while the happily child-free are, once again, left outside the discussion, as though maturity and fulfillment were only available by way of marriage and reproduction.

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